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Roman Catholic Diocese of Sivagangai

Pope John Paul II by the Bull dated 3 July 1987 decreed the erection of the diocese of Sivagangai bifurcating it from Madurai archdiocese.It was established on July 25, 1987 bifurcated from the Archdiocese of Madurai. The Most Rev. S. Edward Francis DD., was the First Bishop of the Diocese and the Most Rev. Dr. Jebamalai Susaimanickam DD., STD. succeeded him as the second bishop.

Territory of the Diocese

The territory of the diocese includes two civil districts Ramanathapuram and Sivagangai. The total population of the area is 2,661,248 of which the Catholic population is 190, 386 (8.2%) and still growing. Surrounding this diocese are the districts of Pudukkottai in the North, Madurai and Virudhunagar districts in the South West and West, Tuticorin and the Gulf of Mannar in the South and the Palk Straight in the East. The Sivagangai diocese stretches from the Madurai district border to the Bay of Bengal and it has a long coast in the East and South East measuring 265 kilometers.

Economic Background

The area of this diocese is predominantly rural in nature. Fishing and rain fed agriculture are the sources of sustenance for the people. The climate is generally very hot and dry with a low degree of humidity.

The terrain of this diocese is quite barren as there are no rivers or mountains. It is perennially drought-prone coupled with the fact of ground water being scarce and salty. It also lacks mineral resources as well as proper transport facilities. As a result, industrial development in this area is almost zero and therefore people migrate to cities and towns in big numbers seeking job opportunities. There are a large number of farmers and fisherfolk. It is very sad to note that due to lack of proper rain for the last five consecutive years, people of this region are experiencing severe drought and famine.

Historical Root

The historical root of Christianity in this diocese is said to go back to the time of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552). In the 17th Century St. John de Britto (1647-1693), patron of this diocese, who succeeded in converting a lot of people in this area, was martyred at Oriyur, which is now a great place of pilgrimage in the diocese. The blood of this great missionary has made the people of this land fertile in faith and piety. Consequently, this diocese is very rich in producing vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

31 years after, the diocese has 82 parish centers, 752 mission stations about 155 diocesan clergy, 60 religious order priests and over 435 religious men and women serving at various religious and educational institutions in the diocesan region.

Diocesan Patron : St. John de Britto

St. John de Britto (1693), the patron saint of the diocese, entered the region as a Jesuit missionary from Europe and became the bedrock of faith for thousands of people. He was beheaded at Oriyur on Feb 4, 1693 by a regional king for preaching about Jesus Christ and establishing churches.

Our Patron- John de Britto

John de Brittoalso known asArul Anandar, (born inLisbon,Portugalon 1 March 1647 – died atOriyur,Tamil Nadu,Indiaon 11 February 1693He can be called the John the Baptist of India.

John de Britto was the scion of a powerful aristocratic Portuguese family; his father,Salvador de Britto Pereira, died while serving as Viceroy of the Portuguesecolony of Brazil. He joined the Jesuits in 1662, studying at the famousUniversity of Coimbra. He travelled to the missions ofMadurai, in Southern India, present-dayTamil Nadu, in 1673 and preached the Christian religion in the region of the Maravar country. He renamed himselfArul Anandar (அருளானந்தர்) inTamil.

The ruler of the Maravar country imprisoned him in 1684. Having been expelled, he returned to Lisbon in 1687 and worked as a missions procurator. KingPedro IIwanted him to stay, but in 1690 he returned to the Maravar country with 24 new missionaries.

The Madurai Mission was a bold attempt to establish an Indian Catholic Church that was relatively free of European cultural domination. As such, Britto learned the native languages, went about dressed in yellow cotton, and lived like aThuravi/Sanyaasi, abstaining from every kind of animal food and fromwine. St John de Britto tried to teach the Catholic faith in categories and concepts that would make sense to the people he taught. This method, proposed and practiced byRoberto de Nobili, met with remarkable success. Britto remained a strictveganuntil the end of his life, rejecting meat, fish, eggs and alcohol, and living only on legumes, fruits and herbs.

John de Britto’s preaching led to theconversionof Thadiyathevan (தடியத் தேவன்), a Marava prince who had several wives. When Thadiyathevan was required to dismiss all his wives but one, a serious problem arose. One of the wives was a niece of the neighbouring king, theSethupathi(சேதுபதி), the King of Ramnad, who took up her quarrel and began a general persecution of Christians.[3]Britto and the catechists were taken and carried to the capital,Ramnad. Thence he was led toOriyur(ஓரியூர்), some 30 miles northward along the coast, where he was executed on 4 February 1693.

Britto wasbeatifiedbyPope Pius IXon 21 August 1853. He wascanonisedbyPope Pius XIIon 22 June 1947. St John de Britto’sfeast dayis 4 February.

Pastoral Commissions and their Activities

Vianney Pastoral Centre (VPC)

Liturgical Activities

Our diocesan liturgical commission, coordinating the liturgical committees that are functioning in the parishes, regularly organizes seminars and workshops for the members of these committees to help the faithful for active and meaningful participation in the liturgical celebrations. In most of the parish churches as well as in the village churches, there are regular morning and evening prayer services led by the catechists.

The Laity: Life and Apostolic Action

From its inception, this diocese has been keen on promoting lay participation. The spirit of Vatican II to involve the laity in the pastoral activities and in the process of decision making is very well materialized. Laity’s Apostolic Actions in the Diocese:

  • Participation and activities of the members of the commissions: Bible, Liturgy & Catechetical Commission, Laity Commission, Dalit Commission, Youth Commission, Small Christian Communities Commission, Family Commission, Labour Commission, Education Commission, Evangelization Commission, Social Action Commission, Charismatic Renewal Commission, and Women Commission are so vibrant and encouraging.
  • Pious associations such as Vincent de Paul, Legion of Mary, Sodality of Mary and Altar servers contribute much to the vitality of the parishes.
  • Members of Parish Councils and Parish Finance committees help the pastors for animating the pastoral activities. Pastors are eager to involve them in the parish administration and activities.
  • There are 7 Lay Ministers (6 men + 1 woman) who gladly take up the task of preaching the good news to Christians as well as non-Christians. Besides spreading the word of God, they also share their God experience and the joy of the Gospel with others. Especially during the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, many of them go and stay at selected villages and parishes for a few days; they visit families, pray for them and share their joy and
  • The unique feature in the pastoral dimensions of our diocese is the exemplary service of Lay Evangelizers. There are 842 members all over the diocese involving in announcing the good news to all especially during the Season of Lent. They are sent in groups to the interior villages to stay with the people and to evangelize.
  • The Commission for Evangelization plans and coordinates the activities of the Lay Evangelizers and draws yearly programmes, seminars and retreats for its members and sends them for evangelization in different parts of the
  • In the Youth Commission, there are 2000 enrolled members from all over the diocese. The commission arranges regular meetings, retreats, personality development and leadership training programmes so that they become evangelizers in their respective places of studies and works.

Ecumenism and Dialogue with Non-Christians

Following the guidelines offered by Vatican Council II on dialogue and relationship with non-Catholics and non-Christians, the diocese avails itself of all opportunities to build up good relationship with the people of other faiths and promotes communal harmony.

  • In the town parishes, every year, common Christmas Carols and combined Palm Sunday celebrations are arranged with the people of other organized denominations and ecclesial communities (non-Catholics) in order to build up the spirit of solidarity and unity in Christ.
  • On the day of Deepavali (Festival of Lights celebrated by the Hindus), Masses are celebrated in the parish churches with the theme ”Christ, the True Light” and prayers are offered for the people of our country, especially for our Hindu brothers and sisters.
  • The Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue organizes programmes and workshops to promote peaceful cohabitation among the believers of various religions, and promote reverence and respect for one another without any discrimination based on religion or faith.

Social Activities: Justice and Charity

(SMSSS-Sivagangai Multipurpose Social Service Society)

Sivagangai Multipurpose Social Service Society (SMSSS) the official organ of the diocese for social action is deeply committed to the welfare of the poor and the oppressed regardless of caste and creed.

SMSSS is a registered society and is working for the empowerment of the vulnerable and marginalised communities in both the Districts of Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram. SMSSS implements Government programmes such as Mahalir Thittam (Mathi), Family Counseling Centre, Creches, Pudhuvazhvu project, Vazhikattum Thittam and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural and Skill Development). SMSSS has net work with DRDA (District Rural Development Agency), District Social Welfare Department, District Rehabilitation Office, DIC (District Industries Centre), Backward class department and other line departments. SMSSS organises 850 Self Help Groups for the emancipation of the poor women. Programmes such as capacity building, watershed management, herbal promotion, legal awareness, RTI (Right to Information Act), Promotion of ecology against global warming, organic agriculture, skill trainings for the youth, welfare programmes for the bonded labourers, physically challenged, housing and HIV/AIDS affected are supported.